During the middle of a heated debate with a childhood friend who grew up to be a criminal lawyer, he threw up his hands and said, “Do you have an opinion on everything, Eileen?” His playful question stopped our argument It also stuck in my mind for years.
Growing up in a verbal and highly opinionated family who debated everything at the dinner table, it was vital to have an opinion on everything and be ready to defend it. My youngest brother developed a stutter as he tried to join the blood sport we called conversation.
As I grew up, I realized having an opinion on everything can also be called “know-it-all-ism.” It is an unattractive trait which doesn’t aid in making friends. To counteract this social sin, I cultivated looking at both sides of a story.
The debate over free speech after the Charlie Hebdo murders tested my ability to form an opinion. On one side were the marchers in Paris and around the world, affirming, “Je Suis Charlie.” I majored in French literature and read their great writers. Seeing the carnage in Paris and the militarization of la belle France set me to marching in my mind.
A few days after the world wide demonstrations, the Pope said, “You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others.” Some objected to the Pope’s remarks on the grounds he favored censorship. Social media makes it easy to declare one’s thoughts, beliefs, and passions in a microsecond. Would I side with the protestors, or with the Pope’s admonishment to not cause harm with provocative comments? I recalled my friend’s remark. Do you have an opinion on everything?
My reading of Buddhism suggested approaching life with curiosity. Perhaps I needed to ask more questions:
• Does freedom of expression preclude respect for the belief of others?
• Can I be curious about the economic or emotional happenstance which leads a human soul to take a life, whether in a Paris newsroom or a U.S. classroom?
The Sandyhook Promise is a nonprofit which looks to the local community, technology, and innovation to develop a national movement for preventing gun violence. They are promoting No One Eats Alone Day on February 13, in an effort to stave off the social isolation which breeds acts of terror.
I thought of my nephew, who invited a second grade classmate and trouble-maker to eat lunch with him in the cafeteria. When I asked him why, he said he wanted to ask his friend, “What’s up? Why do you keep getting in trouble? What can I do to help?” My nephew’s actions sprang from that strange brew of nature and nurture that form us all as human. I wondered if we could step back from the ramparts, whether they be combat lines, lines in the sand, or Twitter handles, to look at the world and say, “I’m here. I’m human. I want to help.”